How to Survive a Super-Hot, Super-Humid Summer in Seoul
If you’ve never lived through a Seoul summer, count yourself lucky. In my books, there are few things on earth WORSE than the months of July and August on the peninsula.
It’s definitely NOT the best time to visit Seoul, yet this is EXACTLY when the hordes choose to descend on the ROK. I don’t know who you are, but I think you might need to rethink your plans. Just saying.
Jump to what you want.
- 1 Summer in Seoul: what to expect
- 2 Hide from the Seoul summer temperature
- 3 Get a personal mini-fan (*it must have ears)
- 4 Eat all the Bingsu
- 5 Walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream (청계천)
- 6 Lounge by an outdoor pool
- 7 Forget the heat at the Daegu Chimak Festival (대구치맥페스티벌)
- 8 Combat the heat with an army of cold soups
- 9 Fight fire with fire (이열치열)
- 10 Visit the beaches in Korea
Summer in Seoul: what to expect
Summer in Seoul lasts for about 3 months, from June to August. June is hot and a little sticky, but pretty tolerable. By July though, you can count on scorching heat, monsoon rains, humidity as high as 100% WITHOUT rain, polluted skies and what seems like an extra 10 million people wandering around the city. Pretty much the stuff of nightmares if you ask me. This torture lasts through August (minus the monsoon rains), and ends pretty dramatically almost as soon as September hits.
I admit that my preferred method of surviving a sticky summer in Seoul is to leave the country, ideally to a Mediterranean country with gorgeous beaches and good food.
But since summering in Europe isn’t often in the cards, mostly I have to resort to the following well-worn strategies. It’s that, or never leaving the air-conditioned comfort of my house… which unfortunately, isn’t really an option.
Here’s how Seoulites survive the absolute worst 2 weather months of the year.
Hide from the Seoul summer temperature
In the Seoul summer months, at intersections, you’ll often see a huge group of people huddled under the tiny patch of shade afforded by a tree. I used to scoff at these people, and march defiantly past them into the sunshine, but I’ve learned my lesson. Oh, have I learned my lesson.
Find the shade wherever you can. A tree. The book you’re holding in your hand. Your purse. Basically anything you can use to create shelter. Because if you don’t, the summer temperature and humidity in Seoul will have you dripping sweat in seconds. And no, I’m not exaggerating even a little bit.
Get a personal mini-fan (*it must have ears)
A few years ago, personal handheld fans became all the rage in Seoul. You literally could not walk half a block without running into someone carrying one. My run-ins with these people would immediately be followed by insane bouts of jealousy and the undeniable urge to rip the fan out of their hands to use myself. Kidding, not kidding.
I finally jumped on the bandwagon and got
myself my daughter, a rechargeable pink handheld Hello Kitty fan. It’s particularly useful in subway stations, where there’s no ac or airflow. You can buy these pretty much everywhere you turn in Seoul in the summer months, and they’re not expensive. Don’t hesitate.
Eat all the Bingsu
Bingsu, along with naengmyun, are 2 things I just couldn’t wrap my head around until I moved to Korea. Let’s face it. This common Korean dessert looks kinda weird. In its classic form – patbingsu – it’s shaved ice, topped with a gooey mess of boiled red beans.
Despite having lived here for almost a decade now, I still rarely hop on board the sweetened red bean train. It’s just not my thing. Gladly however, bingsu has evolved, and now you can get melon bingsu, strawberry bingsu, snow bingsu, coffee bingsu, mango bingsu – you name it, you can probably get it.
My personal favourite is injeolmi bingsu. This milk ice topped with Korean rice cakes and roasted soybean powder, admittedly also looks and sounds weird. But it’s actually totally delicious and completely refreshing, with bonus points for being nutritious too!
Be sure to try it when the Seoul summer temperature and humidity really starts to get to you. Bingsu is pretty much the ideal Korean dessert for surviving a Seoul summer. It’s even better than ice cream, in my opinion.
Walk along Cheonggyecheon Stream (청계천)
If you’re among the tourist hordes visiting Seoul on summer vacation, you’ll undoubtedly end up in Jongno-gu exploring Korea’s Chosun dynasty palaces, Insadong or the Bukchon hanok village.
When you’re desperate for a slightly more refreshing spot to snap that all important hanbok selfie, mop the sweat off your brow and head to nearby Cheonggyecheon Stream. It’s an average of 3.6°C COOLER than other parts of Seoul, due to the flowing water and natural environment.
Lounge by an outdoor pool
Dipping into a cool body of water seems like the most natural solution for an insanely hot Seoul summer, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, public pools are seriously lacking for a city this massive. However, there are a few options available to you, depending on your budget and needs.
Outdoor swimming pools near the Han River
There are 8 outdoor swimming pools located next to the Han River in Seoul. They can be found across the city at Ttukseom, Yeouido, Gwangnaru, Mangwon, Jamwon, Jamsil, Nanji, and Yanghwa Parks. Usually open from the end of June until the end of August, facilities differ from park to park.
Most have multiple pools to be used by different age groups, waterslides, play areas, showers, change rooms and food stalls. Keep in mind that you’ll need to wear some kind of swim cap or head covering to enter the pools.
In my experience, these pools are usually overrun with families on weekends, and are best avoided. Google “ttukseom pool” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If however, you can swing by on weekdays or off-peak hours, it’s a totally relaxing and affordable way to cool down. Kids under 5 enter free!
Exclusive hotel pools
As soon as summer hits Seoul, all I dream about is booking myself a staycation in a luxury hotel… mainly because they’re some of the only places in the city with outdoor pools. If you’ve got a little extra cash and you’re looking for a more exclusive vibe, I’d definitely recommend booking one.
If privacy’s what you’re after, the most exclusive (and expensive) of these has got to be the Banyan Tree Club and Spa. ONLY overnight guests and members of the Club can use their stunning Oasis Pool. Book a room here.
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The Grand Hyatt is probably one of the best known hotels in Korea. It’s where Barack Obama chose to stay on his last visit here! You can enjoy gorgeous views of the city, while lounging next to their Olympic-sized outdoor pool on a blazing hot Seoul summer afternoon.
Hotel pools open to the public
The outdoor pool at the Hamilton Hotel is one of the only ones you can access without actually being a guest. It’s located right in the middle of Itaewon – the expat hub of Seoul. On weekdays, it costs 15,000 won. On weekends, admission is 20,000 won. It’s super popular though, and you’re sure to find a great mix of people from all over the world enjoying the party atmosphere and music. Be warned – it’s definitely more of an adult vibe, and anyone under 19 will not be admitted.
For a more family-friendly pool experience, check out W Seoul, or the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill. These two hotels share an outdoor space called the RiverPark. There, you’ll find two kiddie size pools, an adult pool and outdoor jacuzzis to relax in.
Forget the heat at the Daegu Chimak Festival (대구치맥페스티벌)
Chimaek or fried chicken and beer might be the most perfect meal combo ever invented. On a steamy summer day in Seoul, super crispy K-style fried chicken washed down with an icy cold beer is pretty damn satisfying. I’m not really a drinker, but I always make an exception for chimak.Chimaek is so popular in Korea that it even has it’s very own summer festival that draws over 1 million visitors to Daegu – a city known to be even HOTTER than Seoul.
Don’t mistake this event for just a food festival though. It’s more like a huge party with K-pop performers, events, a “beach,” amusement area and of course, places to eat chimak. Running this year from July 17th – 21st, be sure to take public transportation to the event venue, and remember to bring ID. You won’t get served without it.
I recommend booking an all-inclusive package in advance that includes your festival ticket, admission to the K-pop concert, round trip transport and even chicken and beer on the train to whet your appetite. It’ll make your trip super easy, and stress-free… especially if you indulge a bit too much in the beer portion of the chimak.
If you’d like to stay overnight in Daegu instead, book a hotel near Duryu Park so you’ll be walking distance from the festival grounds.
Combat the heat with an army of cold soups
Growing up in Calgary, where it sometimes snows in June, and the air is so dry, your skin feels like it’s cracking, my mom’s craving for noodles drenched in cold broth was impossible to understand. But boy do I get it now.
On days where the humidity is through the roof, the only thing that’ll do is mul naengmyeon (물냉면). These thin noodles are usually made from a combination of buckwheat and potato flours, and served in an icy broth topped with slices of daikon radish, cucumber and egg.
I’ve tried various and more expensive versions of mul naengmyeon, but nothing refreshes me from the inside out as much as Yookssam Naengmyun’s (육쌈냉면) cheap and tangy version. Served along with a portion of grilled meat, it runs just 6,000krw.
Don’t worry if 물냉면 isn’t your thing though. There’s a literal army of cold Korean soups and stews to suit your fancy. Try kongguksu (콩국수), a dish that owes its white colour to blended boiled soy beans, or chogye guksu (초계국수) – an icy and refreshing chicken noodle soup.
Fight fire with fire (이열치열)
The day that I eat a hot, spicy soup during a Seoul summer is the day hell freezes over. But that’s not true of all Koreans. Many believe that the best way to fight the summer heat and humidity in Korea is with something equally as hot.
This tactic of “fighting fire with fire,” or iyeol chiyeol (이열치열) is based on an idea from traditional Korean medicine, believing that in hot weather, body heat or gi, rises to the surface and disperses, leaving the inner organs cold. Lost heat needs to be replenished by eating hot foods, with rejuvenating ingredients like ginseng, jujubes and omija.
Classic iyeol chiyeol foods include samgyetang – a whole young boiled chicken in a nutritious broth, nakji bokkeum – octopus stir-fried in a super spicy sauce, jangeo – bbq eel, and yukgaejang – a spicy beef and vegetable soup. Try eating one of these fortifying dishes when summer in Seoul really starts to wear you down.
Visit the beaches in Korea
The best and perhaps most classic way to survive a summer in Seoul is to take a break next to the sea. And while the beaches in Korea don’t have the vibrant culture of the Mediterranean, a weekend out of the city, lounging around on sandy beaches and dipping into the cool sea when necessary is sure to rejuvenate all that ails you.
Add in some shellfish grilled over charcoal and a spicy pot of hameul-tang (seafood stew) and you’ve got your iyeol chiyeol (이열치열) covered too!
There are beaches on all 3 sides of the country, but for an easy and manageable break out of Seoul, head out to the East Coast, where Korea’s best (arguably) beaches (outside of Jeju Island) are located. Our favourite is Gyeongpo Beach – a mere 2.5 hours away by bus.
Do you have any tips for surviving a Seoul summer? Share them in the comments below.
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